Cooling Cap May Prevent Hair Loss From Chemotherapy
Breast Cancer Treatment: Coping With Hair Loss
Chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment often leads to hair loss, but there's a lot you can do to keep looking good and feeling good about your appearance.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
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It's common for women to experience fear and anxiety for a lot of reasons when faced with a breast cancer diagnosis. And while you know you have bigger hurdles ahead of you than your appearance, the loss of hair from chemotherapy is still a tough thing to take and can be difficult for many women to deal with.
But it doesn't have to be. Many women might worry that they'll look sick during breast cancer treatment and that other people will notice. There are plenty of tips and tricks to help you still look great and healthy, and even feel better about yourself.
'Look Good - Feel Better'
All women know that when you look good, you feel good. And it's no different for women battling breast cancer. That's why the American Cancer Society offers the "Look Good - Feel Better" program for women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment.
" 'Look Good - Feel Better' is not only offered to breast cancer patients going through treatment but offered to all patients going through a treatment course," says Rose Phillips, of Louisville, Ky., who participated in the program while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
"While you're going through treatment, you can go to one of these sessions, and a cosmetologist will teach you," says Phillips. "It's like a 12-step program on how to take care of your skin, how to apply makeup - because when you're going through chemotherapy and radiation, everything changes in your body."
Chemotherapy drugs attack rapidly dividing cancer cells. But they don't always differentiate cancer cells from other kinds of cells that rapidly divide, such as hair follicle cells. Thus, a common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss.
"With the chemotherapy course that I had, I lost my hair - but you also can lose your eyebrows or your eyelashes," says Phillips. "I just wanted to know how to put my eyebrows on, and they taught me how to do that." But the course offers more than just beauty rituals: You may find a huge benefit in being surrounded by other women who look and feel like you do.
"It feels like when you were 14 or 15 and you were at a slumber party, and everyone brought makeup," Phillips says. "It's an intimate group. You have new lipsticks or new eye shadows or a new face cream. Some people wore a scarf, some people wore a wig like I did, and some people just went bald. No questions, and nobody looked at anybody strangely."
After Breast Cancer Treatment: Options for Coping With Hair Loss
When your hair starts to fall out, you may want to consider cutting it short so the hair loss is less noticeable. If your head starts to itch or gets too patchy, which is common, you can ask your hairdresser to shave your head for you.
You can also cover your head with a pretty scarf, or any type of hat. You can even be bald and beautiful. It's all up to you.
Wearing a Wig
Many women feel more comfortable wearing a wig to hide their hair loss, to feel more like themselves, look healthier, and blend in more. You can go conservative and casual, or bright and crazy.
Phillips took her hair loss as an opportunity to be creative and try out new looks that she never would have tried before. She bought one blonde and one brunette wig - and even created some highlights for herself with some additional hairpieces she bought.
"When I accepted the fact that this was the course of treatment, this is what's going to happen, I was okay with it," Phillips says. "I prepared myself. I had my wigs before I lost all of my hair, and then my hairdresser shaved my head for me when it started to come out."
The positive? "It was much easier to get ready - and there are no bad hair days!" Phillips adds with a laugh.
So while you might be feeling anxious about losing your hair, know that you are not alone. With these tips and with support from the "Look Good - Feel Better" program, you can begin to feel better and healthier so that you can focus on the rest of your breast cancer treatment.
Know the Symptoms
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. Still, a woman should see her health care provider about breast pain or any other symptom that does not go away. Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems may also cause them. Any woman with these symptoms should tell her doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
A change in how the breast or nipple feels
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- Nipple tenderness
A change in how the breast or nipple looks
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- A nipple turned inward into the breast
- The skin of the breast, areola, or nipple may be scaly, red, or swollen. It may have ridges or pitting so that it looks like the skin of an orange.
- Nipple discharge (fluid)
10 Ways to Get Back in the Mood
You can still enjoy a healthy and intimate sex life after breast cancer treatment. Here are some ideas to help you shift back into your sex drive:
- Create a sensual mood. Lighting, music, scent, or a romantic meal for two can help.
- Have a "date." If possible, set aside special time for just the two of you.
- Touch each other. Kiss, hug, and cuddle even when you cannot have the kind of sex you are used to having.
- Change positions. A new position may increase your comfort.
- Find other ways to be sexual. For example, you may enjoy feelings in parts of the body that were not touched as often before. Think about ways to give yourself pleasure.
- Go slowly at first. If you have painful scars, you may have to gradually get used to having the scar touched.
- Ask for more foreplay if you need it.
- Find ways to feel more sensual. Wear pajamas or a nightgown that hides your scar and makes you feel attractive.
- Be positive. Your thoughts can play a big role in your sex life.
- Tell your partner about your worries or fears.
Preparing Yourself for Breast Cancer Treatment
Until your treatment actually starts, you won't know exactly what, if any, side effects you may have or how you'll feel. One way to prepare is to think of your treatment as a time for you to concentrate on yourself and on getting well. Here are some other ways to get ready:
- Many people have few or no eating-related side effects. Even if you do, they may be mild, and most go away after cancer treatment ends. Also, there are new drugs now that can work well to control side effects.
- Having a positive attitude, talking out your feelings, becoming well-informed about your cancer and treatment, and planning ways to cope can all help reduce worry and anxiety, make you feel more in control, and help you keep your appetite.
- Give food a chance. Even if you do have eating problems, you'll have days when eating is a pleasure.
Eat a Healthy Diet
- A healthy diet is vital for a person's body to work its best. This is even more important for cancer patients.
- If you've been eating a healthy diet, you'll go into treatment with reserves to help keep up your strength, prevent body tissue from breaking down, rebuild tissue, and maintain your defenses against infection.
- People who eat well are better able to cope with side effects. You may even be able to handle higher doses of certain treatments. For example, we know that some cancer treatments are actually much more effective if the patient is well-nourished and getting enough calories and protein in his or her diet.
- Don't be afraid to try new foods. Some things you may never have liked before may taste good to you during treatment.
- Stock the pantry and freezer with favorite foods so that you won't need to shop as often. Include foods you know you can eat even when you are sick.
- Keep foods handy that need little or no preparation, for example, pudding, peanut butter, tuna fish, cheese, and eggs.
- Do some cooking in advance and freeze in meal-sized portions.
- Talk to friends or family members about helping with shopping and cooking. Or ask a friend or family member to coordinate that job for you.
- Talk to a registered dietitian about your concerns and what you might expect. She or he can give you ideas and help you plan meals. Ask for help in developing a grocery list with foods that might help with potential side effects such as constipation or nausea. Ask about what has worked for other patients.
4 Steps to Cope With Chemo
Chemotherapy is treating cancer with drugs that kill cancer cells. There are steps you can take during chemotherapy to make you feel better, work better with your doctor, and solve problems that come up during treatment.
Step 1: Tell your doctor if you get any side effects from treatment.
Side effects could include:
Step 2: Ask your doctor before you take any other medicine.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to fight your cancer. Taking other medicine during treatment can cause problems. To get the best results:
- Tell your doctor about all other medicines you take, even if they're for birth control. Be sure to include medicines another doctor gave you or that you bought at the store (including vitamins/herbal supplements).
- Don't take aspirin unless your doctor says it's okay. Aspirin is in a lot of drugs, so be sure to ask the pharmacist if there's aspirin in any drug you're thinking about buying.
Step 3: Take care of your health.
- Eat right.
- Keep your weight about the same - try not to lose or gain.
- Drink lots of liquids.
- If your stomach is not upset, eat foods like these each day:
- Take good care of your mouth, even if it is sore.
- Try to brush your teeth after every meal.
- Use a soft toothbrush and regular flavored toothpaste.
- If you can't brush, rinse your mouth with water.
Stay away from people who have colds or the flu since their germs could make you sick.
- Have all the blood tests your doctor orders because those blood tests help your doctor watch your health.
Step 4: Talk about your feelings.
Being treated for cancer can change the way you feel about things - it can make you feel sad or mad or scared. That's normal, but it can help to talk about it.
Some people talk to their friends or family. Some join breast cancer support groups, online communities, or go to a counselor. However you do it, finding an outlet for your feelings is also an important part of your treatment.
Video: Breast Cancer: Treatment-related Side Effects
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